LeBron James made a bit of news this week in Bristol, Connecticut, and for once, it wasn't one of his tweets. With the Heat in Dallas to play the Mavericks, LeBron offered some thoughts on his favorite NFL team – the Dallas Cowboys. And he gave some friendly advice to their much-debated quarterback Tony Romo.
James told Romo to tune out his critics. He also said "don't watch ESPN" which has led to some in Bristol to question the network's relationship status with King James…
"Just don't care what everybody thinks," he said. "If you care about your craft and at the end of the day if you went out there and you gave it everything you had and you laid it out on the line for your teammates, you can sleep comfortably at night. Don't watch ESPN and all these so-called 'everyone knows what to do that ain't never put on a uniform, trying to tell you what to do' [shows].
I know this is going to shock you, but LeBron's comments about Tony Romo were debate fodder on First Take the next day. A story involving LeBron James? AND Tony Romo? AND First Take itself? Why, that's like the holy trinity for that carnival show. James and Romo are two of the five athletes First Take spends its days stalking and any opportunity for Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith to make themselves the story is what they live for.
But it was also the grown-ups at ESPN that took notice of James' remarks. The General himself, Bob Ley, fired back at James for bashing a network who he used for the made-for-TV special, The Decision.
Help me here, @KingJames. "Don't watch ESPN." – except when you're the focus of a 1 hr show annoucing your free agent destination?
— Bob Ley (@BobLeyESPN) February 19, 2014
The relationship between LeBron James and ESPN is a complicated one that dates back to his high school days. Over the last decade, James has been the most covered athlete day after day at ESPN. His every move has been studied, debated, and analyzed. Perhaps the most fascinating example of this was the PTImeline of LeBron James topics on PTI throughout the years.
Now imagine that timeline multiplied across SportsCenter, across NBA Countdown, across First Take, and Numbers Never Lie, and Mike & Mike, and Around the Horn. Imagine being the subject of constant debate on the most watched sports network in the world. And it's not just your play that's meticulously broken down, it's frivolous things like your thoughts on who's on the NBA Mount Rushmore. Imagine if ESPN took your every tweet on the sporting event of the day, even something as pointless as tweeting "WOW what a play by @JManziel2!!! #boss" and turning it into a national phenomenon. It can be wearying over time.
But then, on top of that, imagine that there are people who seemingly have the sole purpose in life to tear you down. How would you react if there was a Skip Bayless in your office? Who told you that you didn't possess a "clutch gene" or that you'd never close the big sale or be the best at what you do? Yea, you would probably want to tune all of that negativity out as well. In that regard, LeBron James is perfectly within his reason to advise Tony Romo not to watch ESPN and listen to what the talking heads say about him.
But where some inside Bristol might take issue with LeBron James' comments is all the network has done for him in the past. Without ESPN's starmaking capabilities and breathless coverage, James would not be the phenomenon he is today. In fact, more times than not, James has welcomed the attention given to him by ESPN.
It was ESPN that James let ride around with him in his Hummer for a documentary while in high school. It was ESPN The Magazine that put James on the cover in 2002 as NEXT. It was ESPN who came in to televise James' high school games and brought in Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas to cover them. It's ESPN who James has granted exclusive after exclusive to over the years, even, yes, The Decision.
For LeBron James to tell anyone "don't watch ESPN" just a few months after he appeared on the cover of an issue of ESPN The Magazine that was literally all about him and dubbed "The LeBron Issue" seems a bit disingenuous.
Without ESPN, LeBron James might as well be Sidney Crosby or Jimmie Johnson – the best at what they do, but not crossover superstars. Without LeBron James, ESPN would be completely lost in filling hours and hours of airtime.
LeBron James and ESPN need each other. They feed off each other. It's the truest definition of a symbiotic relationship. And yes, that relationship may get complicated at times and there may be some hurt feelings every now and then, but LeBron and ESPN know that sticking together for the long-term is best for both of them.